Monday, September 21, 2009

This Is How We Do It

There are a lot of people who wonder how we do it. How we live off one income, pay off debt, and contribute to savings each month. It's been said that there's no way we live off of just Mark's income, that we must have money coming in elsewhere. I assure you we don't have money flowing in elsewhere. Wish we did. But the reality is that most people don't even know what they're bringing home, and what's worse, have no clue where their money goes. So, if you're wondering how in the world we do it, with 2 kids, and me being able to stay at home - here's how.

#1 - we realize that we can do more with 90% than we can with 100%. At least 10% goes to our church and we also sponsor a child from Holt, Int. Everything we have is God's, therefore giving it back to Him and His church isn't a problem for us. It's an honor.

#2 - we don't spend more than we make. To help us avoid this, we use a budget. Before the month even begins, we sit down and create a new budget. It's typically very similar to all the other months, but changes and tweaks are made based on if we know we're going to be doing things (ball games, zoo trip) and then we can allocate more money to Entertainment or Gas. Therefore, before the month even begins, we have a basic idea of how we're going to spend our money... and then try to stick to it. Are there months that we don't quite make it? Yeah. But we also don't budget all of Mark's income (we try to live off a set amount), so that in the event we do go over a bit, we're covered. Un-budgeted, unspent income goes to savings or paying off our only debt - my student loan.

#3 - we don't use credit cards. It's estimated that when using a credit (even a debit) card that you spend around 20% more. In the rare event we do use a credit card, it's usually because we're working towards getting something free (free money, free plane tickets, etc.) but always pay it off within days of whatever we purchased. If you're not as disciplined, then simply don't use them, at all. There are very few people who can do this, Mark happens to be one of them, and it works in our favor. But most people aren't able to just spend with a purpose of getting something free, then immediately pay it off. So, I recommend not using them.

#4 - we try to remember that keeping up with the Joneses is preposterous. The Joneses are broke and can't afford what they have. We try to be content with what we have and realize that all that we have is God's. Acquiring more "stuff" only leads to a worse case of "stuffitis" - the "I want, I want, I want or I'm not happy" syndrome. At day's end, stuff is just stuff. How much of what we have is really going to matter in eternity? Very little.

#5 - other than those basic principles, the rest is how we legitimately do it. We use coupons and sales ads. For those of you who think it's a waste of time, it's not. I might spend 15 minutes a week cutting coupons and writing down the sales I want to comp at Wal-Mart. Doing so saves us, literally, $100's of dollars. If I can buy bread that's regularly $1.18 for 48 cents, I just saved 70 cents a loaf. Buy two loaves and I just saved $1.40. Do this with the majority of your items and it's easy to save $50+ on each shopping trip. Combine this with coupons, particularly at Kroger where they double up to 50 cents or Target where you can stack coupons, and you can get free, or near free, items. Does it require a little more effort? Yes. But not much, and certainly not enough to deter people from doing it.

#6 - we buy gifts year round. I typically try not to wait until the week or month of someone's birthday. Rather, if I'm out shopping and see something on sale, I ask myself "Who would like this? Would this be a good gift for mom, dad, brother, etc." We have a tote in the garage of just gifts that we've been buying all year. With this said, we also have come to the realization that there are times when we just have to say no. No, I can't buy a gift. No, I can't bring food to this, that, and the other. No, we can't attend this shower. Because the reality is between both of our families, our friends, our kids' friends, and everyone we know, we could be gifted to death if we allowed ourselves to be. We also make gifts. Instead of buying cards, the kids will often make cards and color pictures on them. Much more meaningful than a store-bought card and also a lot cheaper. There've been years where I took pictures of the kids for Father's Day, made a mini scrap book for Valentine's Day (cost me less than $3), etc. It's about being creative, combined with saying no, and thinking ahead.

#7 - while shopping, I look for bargains for next year. When a season is about to end, I'll start looking. I'll think ahead and say "Gee, I think Eli will be about a 4T next spring/summer", then look to see if they have that size in whatever is on sale. I recently just bought him 3 shirts for $1/each. They'll most likely be a Christmas gift or I'll wait and make them part of his birthday gift next year.

#8 - wait for it to go on sale. Have I missed out on some of the things I would've like to have gotten? Yeah. But not enough to deter me from still doing this. Most things eventually go on sale and by waiting, you can save a substantial amount of money. Either by buying it on sale or realizing a week later you didn't really want it in the first place.

#9 - for the kids' clothes, we typically shop twice a year (spring and fall) at an upscale consignment sale. For instance, last week I spent less than $37 and bought Eli 5 winter shirts, and Anna 4. Do they need more than this? No. Since I stay at home with them, we're in PJ's or play clothes most of the time. When they get older, we'll have to buy more. But right now (combined with what the grandparents get them), this works for us. And what's even better? Most of the clothes I bought were from Dillard's, Gap, or were another name brand. You can't hardly beat that.

#10 - I cut Mark, Anna's, and Eli's hair. It saves a ton of money, especially since the boys need their hair cut every month. I get my hair cut about once a quarter and stick to simple hairstyles that don't require being cut frequently, or require a lot of products.

#11 - laundry soap is laundry soap. Buy the cheapest. Better yet, make your own. I'm about to venture in to this myself using a recipe my friend, Heidi, gave me. Or you can also use this recipe from my friend, Penny Raine. And once you do your laundry, stay on top of it. Leaving it in the washing machine for a day or two and then having to re-wash it is not only a time waster, but a money waster.

#12 - see what you can cut in the area of utilities. We got rid of our home phone and have done just fine without it. We have a basic plan on our cell phones- which means no texting, internet, etc. We have the cheapest home internet rate in the area. We have basic cable, simply because without cable in this area you only get 1 channel. Had we been in an area that has a few channels, we wouldn't have cable either. It's amazing how much you can save by just sticking to the basics.

#13 - only run the dishwasher when it's actually full. How much water and dish detergent do you waste otherwise?

#14 - only use paper towels for spills or minor clean-up jobs. Use hand towels at dinner that can be washed and reused.

#15 - shop at yard sales and have yard sales. With 2 kids, we could easily get overrun by toys, clothes, and everything baby and kid. Have yard sales, clean out your garage, closets, and home, and better yet, make some money while you're at it.

#16 - Drink water. Cokes add up really quickly! We very rarely buy cokes to drink at home. If we do, it's usually Sprite because someone is sick.

#17 - buy off brand.... everything. Off brand foods taste exactly the same as name brand foods - there are very few exceptions to this (coke and chips). But since we don't buy cokes to drink at home, we don't' have to worry about this. There's usually about 20-30 cent difference, per can, which means buying off brand can save you quite a bit of money. Buy off brand clothing. It doesn't really matter. Seriously. This isn't high school anymore. Clothes bought at Wal-mart or JCPenney work and look just as good as clothes bought from the Gap, Aeropostale, Dillard's, etc.

#18 - stockpile when you find a good sale. When spaghetti sauce goes on sale for 78 cents/can, you can almost bet we'll buy at least 20 of them. Why? Because we use them a lot, they don't go on sale very often, and we save 20 cents/can doing so. The same applies to other items, canned veggies, meat, chicken, etc. We'll stockpile boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they're on sale for $3.99/ 3 lb. bag. You can hardly beat getting chicken for less than $1.33/lb. It's about thinking ahead.

#19 - Recycle. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it saves trash bags. Since they give you a blue bag each time they pick up, we save at least 1-2 trash bags per week by doing this. Is this a lot? No. But does it add up over time. Absolutely! Trash bags are expensive!

#20 - Change your own oil in your vehicles. Saves the time you have to wait forever at a dealership or repair shop, as well as about $10 per vehicle per oil change. And while I'm talking about vehicles, drive something reasonable. We drive nice vehicles, but one is a '96 and the other an '05. We don't have to have the newest thing. What we have works and better yet, they're paid off.

#21 - shop around for the best insurance rates. When our home and car insurance went up, we immediately began shopping around to see if we could get a better deal somewhere else. And guess what, we did.

#22 - shop around for the best interest rates on your savings accounts. Sometimes, savings accounts don't really draw enough interest to make a difference. Shop around to see what you can do to make the most of your money. By swapping accounts around, we'll make several $100 dollars more just in interest this year.

#23 - look for ways to make money. By signing up for a rewards card, Mark was able to get us free plane tickets that we used to go to Disney World last year. By getting people to sign up for a credit union account, they earned $50, we earned $100. We made around $950 doing this. I recently put items in a consignment sale and made almost $100. We signed up for a card that would give you $100 if you spent $500 in the first so many weeks. I at first thought this was absurd. Who would spend $500 just to get back $100?? Well, Mark is very creative! He went to Wal-Mart and bought five, $100 gift cards that we then used to buy groceries over the next few months. We then signed me up for a card and did the same thing - making ourselves $200. We did this with a similar offer a few months later. It's about finding ways to make your money go further as well as finding ways to generate more at the same time. But again, unless you're able to be extremely disciplined and have the money to pay it off immediately, don't try doing this!

#24 - instead of going hogwild with wants on your birthday and Christmas lists, when someone asks what you'd like, state something you need. A lot of times, the things I need are also things I want. For instance, I can almost guarantee you that new kitchen rugs will be on my Christmas list. Do I want them? Yes. But I also need them since ours are rapidly falling apart. I can almost assure you that kitchen towels, bath mats, etc. will also be on my list. I do add stuff that I purely want - like CD's, movies, PJ's, etc. But I also add gift cards or money to the list (which are my favs). This is how I mainly buy all my clothes....and then I wait until they're on sale to buy them. I recently bought a $50 pair of jeans for $1.97. It's about waiting to find the best deal. This is how Mark gets a lot of his clothes as well. We do this with the kids too. Do they want toys? Yeah. But do they need ALL toys? Not in the least. They honestly often find the most random things to play with - like tupperware bowls, boxes, sticks, etc. So, I like for them to have some toys, but I also want them to get things they need - like clothes, stuff for their rooms (sheets, chairs, decor) etc. I also like educational gifts - and each year the kids get a family membership to the zoo, which is their favorite gift of all. Being practical serves us well and yet while we get things we need, we also end up getting things we want.

#25 - Stop eating out! Mark and I are pretty good about this. I know people who eat out every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I really don't know how people afford it. Putting the costs aside, unless you're eating Subway everyday, it's incredibly unhealthy as well. People say it costs just as much to cook as it does to eat out. This is simply not true. Take last night for example. I made Chinese (stir-fry). I fed myself, Anna, Eli, had leftovers for Mark to take to work today, and me and Eli will eat the rest of the leftovers for lunch. It cost me around $3.50 to make all of this:

If we'd of bought Chinese food, we would've gotten 2 plates/boxes and they're around $8/each. Over $16. Even when I make General Tso's chicken at home, we save a substantial amount of money. Even on steaks, Mexican, Italian, etc. It's cheaper to cook at home, especially when you use the other principles of price matching, coupons, and stock piling. With that said, we do occasionally eat out (2-3 times/month), but we follow some guidelines as well. We typically will always order water. I hate paying $1.50 for a drink when I can buy a 2 liter for .99, putting that into perspective helps a lot. We also will order things that we know go far - in order to share with the kiddos. And if places have the $1 menu, we'll order from it. And amazingly, no one starves! :)

#26 - whoever said you have to go out and spend money to have fun, doesn't know how to have fun! Mark and I rarely get to go do things by ourselves. Mainly because our family is over 2 hours away and paying a babysitter on top of going out to do something isn't really within our budget. So, we do things at home. We'll often rent a movie from Redbox ($1/movie), put the kiddos to bed, pop some popcorn, and have a date night at home. We also sign up for free trials of Blockbuster and Netflix and once you do this, they keep sending you 2 wk. free trials to try to get you to come back to them. Try it again, then just cancel, wait a few more months, and they'll do it again. We just finished a 2 wk. trial with Blockbuster and now got an offer for a free month from Netflix. Free movies equal a lot of free date nights. We're also known to play card games, pull out the Scrabble board, and just have fun doing things together. When it comes to things as a family, there's plenty to do as well. The local hospitals often have health fairs with games and goodies for the kids, the parks are free and have tons of playgrounds, and the nature center just had an event that allowed the kids to paint, learn about animals, play games, and get goodies too. The kids are also part of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, where they each get a free book each month. They love books and love to be read to. If it's with friends, take turns swapping whose house you go to. Cook dinner and then play board games. There really are tons of ways to have fun that are free or cost very little. And we're not such sticklers that we don't occasionally do other things. Like this week, we're going to a football game and the fair. We're able to do these things because we save on so many other areas.

#27 - do your own home repairs if possible. Why pay someone to do something if you can do it yourself? We've (really, Mark) installed a new shower, fixed a broken pipe, re-did our hardwood floors, installed steps outside our back door, as well as tons of other projects.

#28 - if all else fails, get a temporary 2nd job. There for awhile, during tax season, Mark would work at Jackson Hewitt to make some extra cash. I also work part time at the church doing counseling, but not enough that it takes away from my job as a wife and mother.

So, this is how we do it. Most importantly, we remember that being content is what it's all about. Life isn't about how much I can acquire but rather how I use the money God has given me to make a difference for Him. And does it really seem like a sacrifice or like I'm being held back? Not at all. It's actually exciting to think that in the next year or two that we'll be debt free. And I can rest assured say that it will have all been worth it!


  1. GREAT... GREAT... GREAT post!

  2. This is all great stuff But...keeping up w/ the joneses...come on now - lol